Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

It was a messy business, all hands and feet. The Bristol bounced once, then the tail slewed round and we skidded for-ward on what seemed like the crest of a muddy brown wave.

When I switched off, the silence was beautiful. I sat there plastered with mud from head to toe, the engine still sounding inside my head.

Mannie arrived a few seconds later. He climbed up on the lower port wing and peered over the edge of the cockpit, a look of awe on his face. “You must be mad,” he said. “Why did you do it?”

“A kind of wild justice, Mannie, isn’t that what Bacon called it?” He stared at me, puzzled as I stood and flung a leg over the edge of the cockpit. “Revenge, Mannie. Revenge.”

But by then I was no longer in control, which was under-standable enough. I started to laugh weakly, slid to the ground and fell headlong into the mud.

I sat at the table in the hangar wrapped in a couple of blankets, a glass of whisky in my hands and watched him make coffee over the spirit stove.

“Where’s Hannah?”

“At the hotel as far as I know. There was a message over the radio from Figueiredo to say he wouldn’t be back till the morning because of the weather.”

“Where is he?”

“Fifteen miles up-river, that’s all. Trouble at one of the vil-lages.”

I finished the whisky and he handed me a mug of coffee. “What is it, Neil?” he said gravely. “What’s happened?”

I answered him with a question. “Tell me something? Han-nah’s bonus at the end of the contract? How much?”

“Five thousand dollars.” There was a quick wariness in his eyes as he said it and I wondered why.

I shook my head. “Twenty, Mamie.”

There was a short silence. He said, “That isn’t possible.”

“All things are in this best of all possible worlds, isn’t that what they say? Even miracles, it seems.”

I took out my wallet and passport and threw them on the table. “I found her, Mannie – the girl who robbed me that night atThe Little Boat – robbed me because Hannah needed me broke and in trouble. There was never any Portuguese pilot. If I hadn’t turned up when I did he would have been finished.”

The breath went out from him like wind through the branches of a tree on a quiet evening. He slumped into the opposite chair, staring down at the wallet and passport.

After a while he said, “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. Finish this coffee then go and show him those. Should produce an interesting reaction.”

“All right,” Mannie said. “So he was wrong. He shouldn’t have treated you that way. But, Neil, this was his last chance. He was a desperate man faced with the final end of things. No excuse, perhaps, but it at least makes what he did under-standable.”

“Understandable?” I stood up, allowing the blankets to slip to the ground, almost choking on my anger. “Mannie, I’ve got news for you. I’ll see that bastard in hell for what he’s done to me.”

I picked up the wallet and passport, turned and plunged out into the rain.

I hadn’t the slightest idea what I was going to do when I saw him. In a way, I was living from minute to minute. I’d had virtually no sleep for two nights now, remember, and things seemed very much to be happening in slow motion.

As I came abreast of the house I saw the Huna girl, Christina standing on the porch watching me. I thought for a moment that Joanna or the good Sister might appear, not that it would have mattered.

I kept on going, putting one foot doggedly in front of the other. I must have presented an extraordinary sight, my face and clothing streaked with mud, painted for war like a Huna, soaked to the skin. People stopped talking on the verandas of the houses as I passed and several ragged children ran out into the rain and followed behind me, jabbering excitedly.

As I approached the hotel I heard singing and recognised the tune immediately, a song I’d heard often sung by some of the old R.F.G. hands round the mess piano on those R.A.F. Auxi-liary weekend courses.

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